Zoltán Kovács: On Tuesday, the government of Hungary will introduce a bill in the National Assembly proposing to hand back the extraordinary powers that it acquired under the state of emergency put into effect to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The country has weathered, it appears, the first wave of this crisis, and we are turning our energies now to cautiously restarting our lives and opening up the economy.
With this move, Prime Minister Orbán is doing what he said he would all along. Once the threat subsided, the extraordinary powers would also be given back. Our governments detractors would have had you believe otherwise.
On 11 March, one week after reports of the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Hungary, the government ordered a state of emergency (called a “state of danger” in the Hungarian constitution). On 30 March, Hungarys National Assembly – acting upon the governments initiative – passed the so-called Coronavirus Protection Act, which gave the government, like similar measures in other countries, sweeping powers to protect the lives of our people and brace the economy.
The international criticism was swift and intense. They sounded the alarm over Prime Minister Orbáns supposed “seizure of absolute power,” that the government was exploiting the pandemic to dissolve parliament, cancel elections indefinitely and threaten journalists with the prospect of jail time. One group called it “a full-blown information police state in the heart of Europe,” and some drew allusions to Hitler.
Much of it was badly misinformed, often just plain false, and all of it was shamefully biased, clearly singling out Hungary, despite the fact that similar measures in other EU countries went much further. Watching it all from Budapest as we fight the greatest public health crisis that Europe has seen in a century, it was surreal.
The act did not grant the government “unlimited powers,” nor did it dissolve or suspend parliament. The legislative package was passed entirely in accordance with Hungarys constitution, the Fundamental Law, which requires that it come to an end once the threat is no longer present. In fact, it went further by giving parliament the right to lift the state of emergency. “At any given moment, parliament must be in a position to take back the right of decision from the government,” Prime Minister Orbán told the National Assembly in late March.